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Preserving the Harvest, part 2

Home-made LiqueurIn the last issue I talked about different ways to preserve food, from storing, canning, and drying to making jams and pickles. But while most of these methods serve to preserve food and sustain the body, there is still something else you can do with excess fruit - turn them into wines and liqueurs. Traditionally, where fruit is grown the excess harvest is turnes into jams and preserves - or is distilled to make fruit brandies. The Black Forest for example is famous for its Kirschwasser, but there are dozens of similar 'fruit waters' made from plums, raspberries, bilberries, pears, apples, apricots - you name it. But as home distillation is illegal in many parts of the world, we won't go into it here.

Wine making on the other hand is not illegal and although many wine experts scoff at such peasant brews, fruit wines can be excellent, highly idiosyncratic, fun to make and inexpensive. One just has to abandon any preconceived ideas of what wine should taste like. To those who enjoy experimentation wine making opens up a whole new universe of hitherto unimagined possibilities - they are literally endless.

The process of wine making is simple enough. It is essentially nothing more than the conversion of sugar to alcohol and CO2, using the 'bio-services' of yeast, which does all the work. (Sorry, wine-making is not CO2 neutral.) There are many different recipes that vary according to the fruit or vegetable used. Grapes are considered 'ideal' in terms of balance between acids and sugars requiring little or no adjustments. The most difficult skill to master is this measuring process to calculate the acid/sugar/potential alcohol content of the brew - at least if you are going to get technical about it and expect to have some measure of control over the result. Good wine does not happen by accident (although it may). When making wines from other fruits the wine-maker has to test the acid and sugar levels periodically and make adjustments accordingly. But beyond that your imagination is the limit of your creations.

fermenting wine in a demi-johnWhat is a little bit confounding to the beginner is the fact that there is no general method that applies to all fruit - each is considered for its merits and treated accordingly. Although as a beginner one is tempted to follow a tried and tested recipe blindly, it ultimately will be to your advantage to learn about the chemistry involved so that you can act upon your own measurements and judgment. If the summer was hot fruit will be sweeter than in a cold and rainy year. Some like their wine light and fruity and others prefer a full-bodied heavy brew. The better quality fruit you use, the better will be the resulting wine.

The basic steps involved are:

Selecting and prepare the fruit, take off stalks, large pits
Mashing the fruit and transferring it to a bucket
Adding water (undiluted the flavor would become too strong)
Adding other flavoring agents, such as ginger or raisins

Many wine makers add Campden tablets at this stage for the purpose of sterilizing the brew. Others just add the yeast and allow nature to run its course. Whichever method you follow, the important thing is not to add yeast and Campden tablets at the same time as this would destroy the yeast.

After adding the yeast, leave the mixture to ferment, but cover the container. This primary fermentation usually takes from 3 - 7 days.

Syphon the liquid off by transferring it to a demi-john and bung with an air-lock to prevent oxygen from entering. Fill the demi-john as full as possible. Check the sugar/acid content and make adjustments as needed. Allow to stand for a further 4-6 weeks in the demi-john.

While the alcohol content is still low avoid unnecessary opening of the demi-john in order to minimize air exposure. But if fermentation slows down too quickly testing, and perhaps feeding with additional sugar may be necessary.

When the right alcohol/acid/sugar level has been reached the liquid is siphoned off, filtered and filled into bottles. After 6 months - 1 year the wine will be good to drink.

Wine making is not complicated, but if you want really good results you have to invest in a range of tools and equipment and learn how to use them. It also takes space and patience. But the satisfaction and sense of discovery derived from it are absolutely worth the effort. Just don't expect your wine made from Bananas to taste like a Chardonnay.

It would go far beyond the scope of this article to describe all tools that are necessary to get started or additives that may improving the quality of your wine. It is very good idea to join a wine-making forum to discuss your projects and learn from others who are also practicing this ancient art. Below some links to pertinent pages and forums:

Fruit wine making tutorial

Liqueurs

These sweet alcoholic 'desserts' are easy to make and quite delicious. Essentially the process involves macerating fruit or herbs in a strong alcohol base for several weeks. The fruit is then removed and the alcoholic extract is mixed with sugar or spiced syrup sugar syrup. Fill into glass jars and allow to stand for several months more - the older they get the better they taste.

All About Liqueurs
Liqueur Web

recipes (1K)

Rumtopf

This is also a great way to preserve excess fruit and it also serves as a wonderful way to recollect the seasons in the depth of winter. Rumtopf consist of fruit, sugar and rum. The fun part is that it changes through the seasons. Traditionally it is started with the first soft fruit of the year - usually strawberries. The whole fruit (green bits removed) is placed into the rumtopf (a tall earthenware pot). Pour a layer of sugar over it (equal amount in weight), then add rum so the fruit are covered about by about 1inch of alcohol. Place the lid on top and leave in a cool, dark place. Every month a new fruit is added following the same procedure. Strawberries, cherries, currents, gooseberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, apples, pears - though some people restrict themselves to red fruit only. By Winter Solstice you will have a lovely jug full of highly potent fruit that make a very warming condiment with ice cream or other deserts.

Elderberry wine

Clean and strip Eldeberries from the bracteoles (can be done with a fork) and remove all green parts. Place in a bucket and crush berries to release the juice. Boil the water and pour half of it over the berries. Set aside and allow to cool. Dissolve the sugar in the rest of the boiling water and strain the berries through a sieve on to the sugar. Add the citric acid and the yeast (the liquid should be warm, but not hot). Pour the liquid into a demi-john and seal with an airlock.

Keep the wine in a warm place and allow the fermentation to run its course. When the bubbling has ceased, siphon the wine into a clean jar, a process that wine makers call 'racking', which is done to remove any sedimentation (known as 'lees')at the bottom. Store the demi-john in a cooler place and repeatedly rack until no more sediments form. When the fermentation has ceased completely, no more sediments form and the specific gravity is 1000 or less.At this point the wine is ready for bottling.

walnut liqueur

Green Walnut Liqueur

Pick about 30 green walnuts (traditionally on St. John's Day / 24 June) while they are still soft. Cut into slices and place into a wide-mouthed jar. Pour 750ml of fruit brandy, or eau de vie over the nuts and macerate for 4-6 weeks. Strain and discard the nuts. Prepare a syrup with 500g of brown sugar and 500ml water. Scrape and add the inside of the Vanilla bean, the crushed Cinnamon and star anise. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon of Cocoa powder and the juice and zest of 1 organic orange. Allow to cool, then mix with the walnut filtrate and fill into jars (kilner jars). Allow to mature for at least 3 months. Filter and bottle.

For questions or comments email: kmorgenstern@sacredearth.com

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This Article was originally published in the Sacred Earth Newletter. The Newsletter is a FREE service containing articles, news and reviews on all things herbal and/or ethnobotanical, with an approximate publication cylce of 6 - 8 weeks. If you wish to subscribe, please use the subscription box to submit your e-mail address.

Disclaimer:

Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.